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Financial therapy is a relatively new field that combines the emotional support of a psychologist with the money mindset of a financial planner.
Seeing a financial therapist can allow clients to begin to process their underlying feelings about money, while working out plans for retirement, savings, investments and other goals.
Financial therapists (sometimes referred to as financial psychologists) also work to lessen that stress that often comes with money concerns, and try to help their clients develop a more sustainable and healthy relationship to money.
Financial therapists can also help couples overcome differences in their approach to saving and spending, which can help mitigate money fights, and enable them to work together more as a team.
Read on to learn if you might benefit from this type of professional counseling, and, if so, how to find a financial therapist that is the right fit for you.
How Financial Therapy Works
According to the Financial Therapy Association (FTA) , financial therapy is a process informed by both therapeutic and financial expertise that helps people think, feel, and behave differently with money to improve overall well-being.
The profession sprang out of increasing evidence that money can be intrinsically tied to our hopes, frustrations, and fears, and also have a significant impact on our mental health.
According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association , 72 percent of Americans reported feeling stressed about money at least some time in the prior month.
Money can also have a major impact on our relationships.
Indeed, research has shown that fighting about money is one of the top causes of conflict among couples, and one of the main reasons married couples land in divorce court.
And, while it might seem like bad habits and money arguments are things you can simply resolve on your own, the reality is that it’s often not that simple.
Many financial roadblocks, such as chronic overspending or constantly worrying about money, often aren’t exclusively financial. In many cases, psychological, relational and behavioral issues are also at play.
Financial therapy can help patients recognize problematic behaviors, and how various relationships and experiences may have led them to develop those behaviors as coping mechanisms or to form unrealistic or unhealthy beliefs.
Along with offering practical financial advice, a financial therapist can reduce the feelings of shame, anxiety, and fear related to money.
The reasons why financial therapy can help are the same as why traditional psychological therapy can help: It can lead people to understand that they can do something to improve their situation. That, in turn, can instigate changes and healthier behaviors.
Like conventional therapy, the number of sessions needed will vary, depending on the situation. A financial therapy relationship can last from a few months to longer.
Generally, a financial therapist’s work is “done” when you feel your finances are orderly and you have the skills to keep them that way in the future.
Financial Therapists vs. Financial Advisors
Financial advisors are professionals who help manage your money.
They are typically well-informed about their clients’ specific situations and can help with any number of money-related tasks, such as managing investments, brokering the purchase of stocks and funds, or creating a tax plan.
However, psychological therapy is not a financial advisor’s area of expertise, and if a person requires real emotional support or needs help breaking bad money habits, a licensed mental health professional, such as a financial therapist, should likely be involved.
A certified financial therapist (someone trained by the FTA) can work with you specifically on the emotional aspects of your relationship with money and provide support that gets to the root of deeper issues.
Due to the interdisciplinary nature of financial therapy, professionals that enroll in FTA education and certification include: psychologists, marriage and family therapists, social workers, financial planners, accountants, counselors, coaches, students and academics.
Do You Need a Financial Therapist?
If you’re considering whether a financial therapist could help you, you may want to think about your general relationship to money.
If you feel you have anxiety about money, or unhealthy behaviors and feelings when it comes to spending, budgeting, saving, or investing, you might benefit from exploring financial therapy.
Some red flags that you might benefit from a financial therapist include:
- Chronically paying bills late.
- Holding unhealthy spending habits (such as gambling or compulsive shopping).
- Overworking oneself to hoard money.
- Completely avoiding financial issues that need to be addressed.
- Hiding finances from a partner.
Often, unhealthy saving, spending, or working habits are a symptom of other bad habits related to mental or physical health.
Keep in mind that it’s possible to have an unhealthy relationship with money even if your finances are good on paper.
Finding a Financial Therapist
Like choosing any therapist, you often need to shop around a bit to find the right fit—someone you feel you can relate to, trust, and you also feel understands you.
For those who may not have access to a financial therapy professional in their backyard, many offer services via video conferencing.
You can start your search with the Find A Financial Therapist tool on the FTA website, which features members and lists their credentials and specialties.
Your accountant or financial counselor might also be a good source of referrals.
As with choosing any other financial expert or mental health professional, it’s a good idea to speak with a few potential candidates.
In your initial conversations with candidates, you may want to discuss the therapist’s training and expertise, as well as your needs and situation.
Financial therapists have a wide variety of backgrounds, so it is important for consumers to learn as much as they can about that individual’s practice, expertise, and ability.
You may even want to ask them how they define financial therapy themselves because approaches and definitions vary from one professional to another.
It can also be a good idea to ask how long they have been providing financial therapy services, what their fees are, as well as if some or all of the fee may be covered by your medical insurance.
Financial therapy merges finance with emotional support to help people cope with financial stress, learn to make better financial decisions, and develop better money habits.
If you frequently feel stressed and/or overwhelmed when you think about money–or you simply avoid thinking about money as much as possible–you might be able to benefit from at least a few sessions of financial therapy.
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While it might seem like hiring a financial therapist is another expense that could complicate an already difficult financial situation, it might be better to view it as investment in your emotional and financial wellness, one that could help you build financial stability and wealth in the future.
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